The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Violent Determinants Of Social Hierarchy

There are four primary determinants of social hierarchy. They are productive ability, social ties, ideology and violent ability. All are affected by geography.

None of these operate in isolation. Productive ability directly affects violent ability.  Ideology determines what people will and won’t do but over time tends to move towards what a Marxist would call material determinants, though that time can be a LONG time: it took about two thousand years for the early kings to rise after the introduction of agriculture, so the power of ideology, though not the only factor slowing adoption, shouldn’t be understated. Two thousand years shows a lot of resistance.

To the extent hunter-gatherers tended towards egalitarianism, and there are certainly exceptions, generally based on high surplus, it was based on the fact that one guy with simple wood and stone weapons isn’t much better at violence than any other guy, especially in a society where all men who aren’t shamans are hunters. Oh, the best might be able to take two men at once, maybe even three in exceptional cases, but if a group of other males attacks he’s done. Likewise, though ambushes can change the formula, conflicts between men and groups of men are extremely risky unless one side outnumbers the other.

This changes a lot with early bronze weapons and armor, and it changes even more with organized bodies of men trained to fight together. Professional warrior or soldier classes whip peasants. So when agriculture makes every man not a hunter, but allows for division of labor, the “every man is about as good as another” changes, especially in organized groups.

He who is able to transfer the loyalties of a group of warrior or soldiers to himself can rule. Alternately men good at violence can transfer their loyalty to each other, creating a ruling warrior caste.

Let’s take the case of ancient Greece. The Homeric age emphasizes individual combat, but nobles can train much more for it and have better gear. They rule, but the society is still remarkably flat overall. In the classical period, the primary military arms are the phalanx and the galley. The Phalanx is simple and doesn’t require a lot of training, but it does require fit men with gear acting in groups with high solidarity. If everyone doesn’t push together, in unity, they lose.

Athens citizenship was almost exactly “men who fought in the Phalanx” and “men who rowed the galleys.” The galleys were for poorer men, and the state provided the galleys, but galley rowers had to be highly trained and work in precise unity. Slave rowers could not compete with free men, and highly trained crews of citizens could and did, as with the Athenian navy against the Persians, dominate.

So, while those who rowed were usually of the lowest class of Athenian citizens, they were citizens.

What was also important is that for the phalanx, men provided their own weapons and armor and the state, which was the citizens, provided the ships.

Rome started off similar: legions were full of citizens who served for relatively short periods, and who provided their own arms and armor. As with most of the Greek cities, they returned to their farms or other lives after the wars. They were not professionals: they did not make their living as soldiers, but they were able to beat professionals. Sparta may have been the best for a long period, but they didn’t win every battle, their dominance on land was real, but not determinative. Rome in the early and middle Republican period defeated armies made up of professionals regularly.

The fall of the Republic comes when the army is professionalized: this is now how people make their living, they are provided their weapons and armor, and they are loyal primarily to their generals, because their chance of real wealth is from looting and that depends on the general, including whether and how much he lets them loot.

Crassus, near the end of the Republic, simply raises his own legions without the help of the state.

Rome comes to depend on professionals, not citizens, and those professionals are not loyal to the citizenry, and as such the Roman Republic comes to an end when one of the great generals, Augustus,  defeats all his opponents. The Republic never returns, because the conditions for Republican rule are gone.

As we can see, then, if amateurs can’t defeat professionals and if armies are not raised from the citizenry by the citizenry, Republican or Democratic rule cannot continue.

The great Democracy of the last six centuries or so was Switzerland. Similar to the Greek city states, they relied on pikemen, raised from the general population by the general population and able to defeat professional militaries, including knights who had trained since childhood. Even when operating as mercenaries (as city state citizens sometimes did) they retained their loyalty to Switzerland.

But the heart of it is that they could defeat troops raised in non-free states.

But notice in all these cases: men had the franchise, because they were the ones who could and did fight. Women in Athens were treated particularly badly, indeed they were treated worse than most slaves who didn’t work in mines. Switzerland was one of the last western nations to enfranchise their women.

Let’s talk about that enfranchisement. The main feature of 20th century warfare from the WWI thru Korea was that it was mass conscription warfare. The armies were huge. This meant that women, during war, had to take over jobs done by men who were fighting.

Women thus, while mostly not fighting (WWII Russian women are a rare exception), were absolutely integral to military success. They made much of the weapons and kept society running.

When did women get the vote in the US? 1919.

The US draft ended after Vietnam, and the army was professionalized. Not coincidentally, egalitarian distribution of goods has since then spent over 40 years collapsing. This was due, in part, to the constraints on war in a nuclear armed world. Before nuclear weapons, great powers could win wars against each other and the benefits of doing so were huge as were the costs of losing. (Austria stopped existing, Germany lost a huge amount of its land and became a US Satrapy, as did Japan.)

Going all out, enlisting as many men as possible and increasing war production thru the roof all made sense.

But in Vietnam, the US never went all out, because North Vietnam was a Russian ally. They wanted to win without really winning: without conquering North Vietnam.

You don’t need a mass conscript army for a war where you’re not seriously trying to win and where, indeed, seriously trying to win may provoke a nuclear war. (This also applies to the Ukraine war to some extent.)

It is notable that democracy rises with cheap gunpowder weapons. Mass egalitarian societies, in economic terms, result from WWII, and the policies supporting them come to an end about the time that mass drafts are done away with and armies are “professionalized”, aka, become internal mercenaries.

Worse for the future may be the rise of robotic armies. If you don’t need men for soldiers, if you don’t need mass numbers of women to step in and make the robots, well, perhaps the time of egalitarian societies is done.

Or, perhaps not. Because as important as who fights is who makes the weapons. The great disaster of the war of 1812 is that decentalized American armaments production could not compete with centralized armaments factories. It was the end of the yeoman farmer ideal: the idea that decentralized armies raised from the yeomanry could defeat professional militaries.

But if drones and robots which are effective combatants and effective assassins or area denial weapons can be created by ordinary people easily, and the powers that be are unable to deny people the means of doing so, then robotics may prove to be positive in spreading power among the population.

This is one of the hopes of the future, and you should understand clearly that those who want to restrict your access to the determinants of power do not have your best interests at heart.

We’ll talk about that at a later date: it gets to the heart of much of the culture war around guns, a contentious topic and with good reason, given just how many children are being served up on its altar.

But that is for later, for now: who is good at violence matters and it determines who gets the good life and who doesn’t; who rules and who serves.

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  1. Feral Finster

    It has been evident since the Roman Republic at least, that you can take any able-bodied jerk off the farm and train that jerk to be a soldier.

    Oliver Cromwell discovered that a trained soldier motivated by something other than “your women and your half-crown” is more effective still.

  2. DMC

    Historical note: There were Russian volunteer women’s battalions in WWI.

  3. Tallifer

    Since these days almost every single Ukrainian is now inspired and self-mobilized to fight or help the fighters, we should hopefully see a flowering of democracy (and final breaking of the corrupt mindset of homo Sovieticus, as the Russian journalist Misha Gessen calls him)

  4. Bullweather

    Very interesting, Ian.

    Regarding the robotic warfare, I’m not sure what it would look like. Terminator style with humanoids seems farfetched given materials shortage for EVs, unless we succeed in harvesting space rocks. This is not even to mention the semiconductors that will be necessary for these types of machines and the fractured supply chains we currently face. Obviously the future is uncertain.

  5. Mark Level

    “Since these days almost every single Ukrainian is now inspired and self-mobilized to fight or help the fighters, we should hopefully see a flowering of democracy”– Tallifer. Oh, so those video clips of Ukrainian officials dragooning kids out of school to be forced to the front lines (the draft now runs for men from 16-60) & people fighting back or going limp are all imaginary? And the several million people including military age males who escaped either to Russia (esp. those who lived in the East, Donetsk region, etc. and were shelled continuously for 8 years killing many hundreds of civilians, as even the U.N. admitted) or to Europe are in fact NOT running back to fight as Bakhmut is nearly taken by the Russians, in defiance of your absurd blather which comes from Banderist (Nazi allied) sources? The big demonstration of hundreds of women demanding the war end after their sons and husbands were killed I imagine you believe was staged? The fact that even the ghouls at the NYTimes, WaPo etc. are now starting to admit that Ukraine has no chance for “victory” whatsoever (and more rarely, that like Napoleon and Hitler it never did) doesn’t mean anything, right? How satisfying it must be to live in a little bubble of propaganda and support people like Lindsey (let’s start executing women who have abortions for murder, & the MDs who perform them) Graham who boasts “The Ukranians will fight to the last person”, Amy (“you stupid proles will never get affordable health care” was the central reason the MSM ghouls promoted her utterly failed campaign for President in 2020) Klobuchar and the late John McCain (still referring to Vietnamese as “gooks” in 2001) who went to Ukraine in 2016 to encourage the shelling of civilians and national suicide? It didn’t end well for the Galician national hero Stepan Bandera who even pissed off his former ally, Nazi ideologies based on racial separatism and hate rarely end well though they may rule for a time . . . Oh, and the “flowering of democracy” there where Zelensky simply banned all the pro-peace parties, where they are shutting down Orthodox Russian monasteries and beating and jailing monks (probably not very popular among the 40%+ or so of Russian speaking people in Ukraine) are a real “flowering” of freedom. . . Sadly for you (I think), the Pentagon powers that be are now preparing more for their planned and announced war on China to begin in 2025, & the Ukrainians will be left to have their country split up, perhaps combined with the racist homophobes (legal “gay free zones” where anyone suspected of being non-hetero can be beaten or even killed legally) in Poland. I wonder if you will still be blathering delusional nonsense about the blond and blue-eyed “heroes” 2 years from now of if they will be forgotten? Oh, I’m sure whatever you share you will never evince the slightest sympathy for the Palestinians regularly beaten, lynched, jailed (including children 12-18) and having their lands slowly stolen or olive groves burned down in (illegally) occupied Palestine? We’ve gotta have our worthy & unworthy victims. It’s nice to see you are allied with such warm, kind-hearted people as Graham, Marco Rubio, Ben Shapiro, etc. anyway. Best of luck with that! Don’t forget what Uber War criminal Kissinger said long ago, “It may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be its friend is fatal.” Like the Kurds who were repeatedly gassed by chemical weapons sent to Saddam when he was “our guy” or the Libyans being sold in slave markets, or the Honduran women raped under a Hillary Clinton engineered coup under Obama, most Ukrainians except the most hardened neo-Nazis may soon be dealing with that reality and not the sunny “paradise” you seem to believe in.

    Link to Graham Klobberchar and McCain visit @

  6. VietnamVet

    With the end of the draft and mass armies after the Vietnam War, the American people no longer mattered. The endless wars are simply for contractors’ profiteering and fought with mercenaries. This is why, very quickly, the Kremlin and the White House have to figure a way to get the Ukraine proxy WWIII settled. Right now, the conflict is a stalemated trench war just like WWI. The only force available to break the impasse is China like the USA did in 1918 in WWI. Nuclear weapons are the only way NATO or Russia could defeat each other. American youth are too sick, addicted and obese to conscript into a mass army. Millions are dead due to the privatization of the public health systems, pandemics, deaths of despair, and medical malpractice. The deindustrialized Atlantic Alliance cannot equip an army with the armament needed to fight maneuver warfare that was victorious in WWII.

    Western Elite and the bought politicians plainly cannot deal with the devolving into backwater feudal fiefdoms due to the lack of cheap energy and being flooded with the war and climate change displaced persons. Three of the four largest bank failures in the US have occurred in the last two months. If the current outbreak of mass shootings is an indication, running amok with ICBMs is the most likely fate for human beings if reality is not faced and peace is not given a chance.

  7. GlassHammer

    “decentalized American armaments production could not compete with centralized armaments factories” – Ian

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news but …. many of our current military supply chains are more than decentralized… they are globally decentralized.

    And… thonse supplies are primarily managed with “just in time inventory” so there aren’t warehouses full of replacements waiting around.

    Oh and the “spare” inventory that does exist is normally kept small in quantity to save money. And some of the spares are over-counted, lost, or broken.

    And… some of the existing spares are no longer compatible with their systems due to system modifocations/upgrades.

    So yeah….

  8. Purple Library Guy

    Another interesting thing about violence and who gets to rule–ever since the development of fairly quick-firing rifles, and I suppose cheap, easily used explosives, we have seen a flourishing of guerrilla warfare, allowing determined third world people to throw off colonialism and in some cases local elites.

    (Incidentally, on the Vietnam war . . . I think not attacking North Vietnam with ground troops had more to do with China than with the USSR; I expect Korea was still fresh in the minds of US generals, and China had had more time to recover by the time of Vietnam. And that would not have been about nuclear weapons and MAD, it would just have been about the fact that the US would not win. But even if the US had attacked North Vietnam, and even if neither the USSR nor China had reacted beyond feeding weapons to the Vietnamese, quite simply the US would still have lost. The Vietnamese were smart and tough and united and really good at what they were doing. Revisionist narratives about “Oh, we didn’t win because we didn’t try hard enough” are BS. The Vietnamese beat them, and would have beat them no matter what they did)

    Although one thing I’m noticing now that we have a conventional war happening . . . a lot of developments in warfare don’t matter as much as I think a lot of people were expecting. Drones have been used, they have been useful, but they have been pretty much marginal; they seem to get shot down a lot when they come in contact with serious armies. Partisans and special forces have done a few things, but have been basically marginal. What has counted has been old fashioned stuff like artillery and digging in, and slightly less old fashioned stuff like air power and heavy armoured vehicles. I myself have been a little surprised at how relatively little missiles have done–sure, some high profile hits that could be accomplished no other way, especially by the Russians who have more and better missiles. But the day to day attrition grind seems to be mostly about artillery, and recently as Ukrainian anti-air gets degraded, bombs.

    I expect if the Russians beat the Ukrainian military, and if they decide to try to stick around and occupy portions of Ukraine that are majority Ukrainian speakers, guerrilla warfare will start happening and could get serious. But it won’t be a big thing while the hot war with the large numbers of troops and heavy metal are ruling the day.

    As to lots of small arms in the United States . . . People could use them to help make themselves ungovernable, run a guerrilla war, although you don’t necessarily need guns for that. You can do a lot with fertilizer . . . But that will only happen when and if US institutions pretty completely break down, which they have not done, even in rural areas. All these rural alt-right types talk a big game, but they tend to be dependent one way or another on government subsidies (even though broader government policies impoverished them in the first place).

  9. capelin

    Great article.

    Scale destroys empathy, so that’s part of the problem with all concentrations of power, but we certaily live in a world of scale now. It’s important to remember that lots of Indigenous folks and others still have very functional, very egalitarian societies, to the extent possible in the face of everything.

    I’d argue that we are also at a different point than “before”; we either figure out how to enfranchise all, and how we ditch the elite overlords, or we go down in toxic flames, as many millions are even as we speak.

    We have to stop doing industrial war, speaking of ideological shifts. Just, stop.

  10. elkern

    Thx for another enlightening History lesson. Much of this I already knew, but much is new info or new patterns.

    But I don’t see how “drones and robots which are effective combatants and effective assassins or area denial weapons [could] be created by ordinary people easily”. People with 3D Printers might be able to build some of this, but that’s still gonna be a small segment of the upper middle class at best. Even then, it will prolly require materials and sub-components from a near-global supply chain.

    Frankly, it seems far more likely that such weaponry would be built, owned, and controlled by the new Zillionaire class. More importantly, they’re the only ones who can build factories to create machinery to build the factories to build drones and robot armies.

    Crap, now I’ve scared myself silly. Hope I can sleep tonight.

  11. StewartM


    I agree with most of your commentary. However, given the fact that the ‘high tech’ US military has recently had to tuck its tail and pull out of both Afghanistan and Iraq due to resistance by rag-tag militias it couldn’t defeat, might you be sounding the death of mass armies too soon?

    I would argue that the Cap Weinburger “be all you can be” volunteer military we have today was not driven entirely by military science. Rather, it was driven by conservative angst about the “Vietnam Syndrome”, where the US right wing bewailed that Vietnam and crippled the US’s ability to militarily intervene in wars for Exxon and United Fruit across the globe “to protect US interests and promote US values”. As conservatives saw it, the cure for the Vietnam Syndrome was:

    a) do not commit mass armies; keep down the number of body bags and the number of mothers who lose their children;

    b) While semi-professional volunteers would be needed to fight a higher-tech war, it was also likely assumed that the families of semi-professional volunteer soldiers might be less likely to complain than that of draftees.

    c) Control what the news media can show of the war. (It helped that there was a friendly news network you could count to report things as you wanted; not the case in Vietnam).

    d) Suppress dissent

    e) Bonus–high tech warfare means high tech weaponry and parts, and with less Pentagon oversight, higher profits for the defense industry. So you get to fund your donor class as well in these wars!

    The ultimate US problem in both Iraq and Afghanistan, contrasted to Japan (1 million occupation troops) and Germany (250,000 US plus that of allies), there weren’t enough guys holding guns in their hands to really control the area. While the Vietnam war has been compared to the US Revolutionary war, the same holds true of Iraq and Afghanistan. Anywhere the British could fight the Colonials on anything like equal terms, they usually won. But after all was said and, the British only controlled the areas where their guys with guns stood, once they left an area it fell back to colonial control, and they had nowhere near enough guys with guns to have them standing everywhere.

  12. Feral Finster

    @Tallifer: I lived much of my adult life in Ukraine and can speak Russian and more Ukrainian than most Ukrainians, although I have not a drop of Slavic blood in me.

    Enough to say that anything other than full-on foaming at the mouth support of war without end is a good way to invite a visit from the secret police, who will convince you of the error of your ways.

  13. Feral Finster

    Looking at successful insurgencies recent years, the one thing they all have in common is young populations.

    The median age in Ukraine is over 40.

  14. Purple Library Guy

    StewartM, while I think you’re right about the motivation behind the shift to smaller volunteer armies, in a way that’s the flip side of Mr. Welsh’s point. That is, the authorities shifted to a volunteer army PRECISELY BECAUSE mass conscript armies led to more democratic power for the masses than they were happy with. This is actually pretty strong support for Mr. Welsh’s claim that mass conscript armies do exactly that. And indeed, the right in those times frequently talked about the problems caused by an “excess” of democracy, and were not only consciously but even fairly overtly talking about what they could do to solve this “problem”.

    Which suggests that pro-democracy thinkers should consider what sort of military force or other violence capabilities would be desirable from the point of view of promoting democracy or at least being compatible with it. Hugo Chavez thought about that; he deliberately set the military to doing various community building and aid projects only partly because they needed doing and the military was available manpower. The other reason was that he wanted the military, particularly the rank and file, to be out in the community working with and for the public, having positive contact with the people, so they would be more reluctant if told to go repress them. And it worked–the early coup against him was mainly by the air force and the sort of palace guard, not the actual ground troops. And yes, the impoverished masses came down from the barrios in the hills to support him . . . but what’s less reported on is that the infantry refused to stop them.
    Since then, Venezuela has experimented with citizen militias, although I’m not sure how successful it has been.

    As a side note, arguably after this war is over there will be pro-democracy pressures in both Russia and Ukraine, since they have both been pushed into deploying mass conscripted armies.

  15. Carborundum

    At least in the anthropological record of hunter-gatherers, the key limiter of violence appears to come down to mobility – one could always vote with one’s feet with little consequence. In addition, the literature is rife with examples of cultural practices intended to diminish conflict. Some violence did occur, but it is on the whole very, very limited. Once sedentism, and particularly foodways that require more labour and facilities, take root other moderating factors are required – and generally conflict with the trend towards production and control of surplus. (The “anthropological record” caveat is due to the fact that our knowledge of hunter gatherers is somewhat skewed towards cultures occupying more marginal areas.)

    To segue massively to drone warfare, I think people need to be very wary of straight line forecasting from what we have seen in recent conflicts. While GWOT and Ukraine have seen unprecedented use of drones, they are playing out very differently than future high intensity conflicts are likely to. GWOT was an entirely different type of conflict (pattern of life and episodic point targets) and Ukraine is characterized by an amazing lack of effective maneuver. Forces that are moving many tens of kilometres a day are not going to be accomplishing much with the types of barely beyond hobbyist systems we’ve seen. Beyond simple speed of advance, the big bottlenecks are going to be spectrum, operator numbers and processing / analysis time. I’m sure we’ll eventually see swarm tactics and AI enabled processing of distributed take, but that’s probably something on the order of a decade away and likely to be very challenging to integrate effectively into the decision matrix (commanders only have so much brain space).

    As an aside, I find it interesting that everyone always zeros in on is the future of drone weapon platforms. The thing I’m really interested in is the future of drone logistics. That strikes me as potentially an even bigger game changer than autonomous offensive systems.

  16. Willy

    Nanorobots. Not necessarily the kind wearing cute little helmets, but smart enough to sever important wiring connections inside other robots. Of course these could be disabled by even larger suicide robots which emit a massive EMP pulse, but we’re working on it.

    As for now, we’re stuck with the issue that nothing we make works very well anymore because all our STEM people have been hamstrung by our MBAs. But we’re working on that too.

    Speaking of Ukraine, what’s the solution? I see a lot of accusation but no solution. Best idea wins a Popeil Pocket Fisherman and as an added bonus, their own little army of fish-seeking nanobots.

  17. StewartM

    Purple Library Guy

    That is, the authorities shifted to a volunteer army PRECISELY BECAUSE mass conscript armies led to more democratic power for the masses than they were happy with.

    I agree with both you (and Ian) on that; however, I’m not sure our social betters can think that far ahead (I mean, we’re talking about the same guys who exported our technological lead to a possible adversary, China, no? As Lenin said, a capitalist will sell you the rope you can hang him with, he looks no further than short-term advantage).

    My point is that the change of the US military to being a mass army to a small volunteer professionalized one was not driven solely by military science or military need. Sure, more professionalized forces are more capable, but creating them is costly and relying on them puts one at risk of catastrophic loss (i.e., lose a battle and a sizeable part of your force assets, and you won’t replace them anytime soon). Andrew Cockburn, in a book about the Soviet military written c. 1983, criticized the ‘high-tech’ emphasis of both US and Soviet forces saying that if a large ground scale war ever broke out in central Europe, after a month due losses and attrition both sides would have run out of their high-tech weaponry, and the Soviets would be pulling 1950s T-55 tanks out of their warehouses while the US and its allies would be doing the same, pulling out M-48s and M-60s and similar 1950s/1960s weaponry that would be lower-tech but cheaper to maintain, replace, more robust, and easier to mass produce.

    Now think of a less dire scenario. The supposedly mighty US military couldn’t defeat ragtag militias in Afghanistan and Iraq. The men were too few, the weapons too expensive, and the cost was too high (for the nation, that is; it was absolutely friggin’ great for the contractors). Like the US healthcare and real estate industries, the US defense industry profits mightily in a way that makes the nation weaker, for near WWII cost levels (inflation-adjusted) we only get minuscule forces compared to what we created and maintained in WWII.

  18. StewartM

    Purple Library Guy,

    I guess a less verbose way of summing up what I said (in the middle of writing that, my browser ate my homework) is that ‘what good, really, is adopting a military force structure–here, the abandonment of mass militaries in favor of smaller, high-tech, professional forces–if it causes you to LOSE wars?” And more importantly, lose the big, important, essential wars?

    I maintain our Cap Weinberger military only excels at ‘showing the flag’, in ‘shock and awe’ adventures against very overmatched conventional forces. It obviously can’t fight a guerilla war and maintain an occupation, and I doubt it could hold out in the long run against a less-overmatched conventional mass military (like China’s). If so, once again, our social better geniuses have shown that they have compromised their own international power just for the sake of winning their own battle against their peons.

  19. Mark Pontin

    Good post, Ian. As I read it, I wondered if you’d get to robotics and you did.

    Elkern: ‘I don’t see how “drones and robots which are effective combatants and effective assassins or area denial weapons [could] be created by ordinary people easily”. ‘

    Drones, for an obvious instance. You can buy them from DJI or build them using old phone chips (with GPS) for brains, then strap IEDs on a bunch of them.
    More generally think ‘shanzai war’. Meaning, regular folks hacking together cheap, do-it-yourself versions of fancy weapon systems they’ve seen the big boys using on the internet. Shanzai started as a Chinese term for pirated or imitations goods and electronics ….

    Then rebels in the Middle East and Africa began turning pick-up trucks into armored rocket-launchers (‘technicals’) and repurposing consumer electronics to hack into their enemies’ guidance systems. Thus ‘shanzai war.’

    Big imminent obstacle for this, though, is the advance of electronic warfare, as demonstrated by the Russians in Ukraine (though you won’t hear this from the West’s MSM), thus jamming connectivity of an enemy’s forces and weapon systems (like drones and missile targeting mechanisms).

    Dr. Phillip Karber on the Russian Way of War, lecture at West Point, 2018 —

    Electronic warfare gets won by the side with the most advanced, broadly geographically active systems, which puts dominance back in the hands of the actors with the deepest pockets, like states.

    As Heraclitus said, ‘War is the father of all.’ That particularly means new technologies; think of how the world looked in the 1930s and how it looked just 15-20 years later, with the arrival of jets, computers, ICBMs, etc. — all tech developed because of WWII.

    So we now have Cold War 2. Depending on how the DMZ in Ukraine shakes down — how big it’ll be — we can probably expect drones, self-healing minefields, etcetera, to play a sizable role in hostilities there.

    Electronic warfare — jamming — will lead to both sides trying to make their systems autonomous , with AI onboard. God help us.

  20. Mark Pontin

    Carborundum: “While GWOT and Ukraine have seen unprecedented use of drones, they are playing out very differently than future high intensity conflicts are likely to … Ukraine is characterized by an amazing lack of effective maneuver. ”

    Yes, Ukraine operations look superficially and perhaps ironically like a WWI replay. But that’s because each side cannot move without the enemy’s networks of drones, satellite, radar networks, AWACS, etc., picking that movement up. Maybe that *is* in fact the way future high intensity conflicts will be. Certainly, I wouldn’t be as ready as you to make the prediction that they won’t be.

    Carborundum: “I’m sure we’ll eventually see swarm tactics and AI enabled processing of distributed take, but that’s probably something on the order of a decade away …”

    Come on. It’s 2023 and these things are here already, if still in early-stage forms. Fortem Technologies, for one instance, is a commercial company with comprehensive counter-drone systems and, though it’s not on their website because it’s supposed to be a secret, they’ve been selling their systems in Ukraine —

    Fortem: The SkyDome® System

    Their claim: ‘Fortem has pioneered the technology required to build a fully integrated, *end-to-end* counter-drone solution.

    ‘Three core product families comprise the system: TrueView® sensors, SkyDome® Manager software, and DroneHunter® interceptors. Each was designed from the ground up to address dangerous drones. Flexible and portable, the SkyDome® System can be deployed as a permanent installation or as part of a mobile strategy. It can be configured in many ways and scales to protect zones of almost any size. ‘

    Me: I don’t know how effective it’s actually proving. But you can’t produce an end-to-end counter-drone system without having addressed “drone logistics.”

  21. Trinity


    “As for now, we’re stuck with the issue that nothing we make works very well anymore because all our STEM people have been hamstrung by our MBAs.”

    Never assume competency in anything they do, until proven otherwise. The overall goal is always profit, future profit, ownership of profitable enterprises, ownership of easily dismantled enterprises for-a-fire-sale profits, or new income streams from popular products that can be whittled down to the worst possible quality for lots and lots of profit.

    But they have gotten really good at propaganda, outright lying, cover ups, and manipulating hearts and minds.

  22. different clue


    The best solution to the Ukraine war is to let the two sides keep fighting till one side or the other side is so attrited and depleted that it has to just simply give up and stop fighting . . . . and has to admit it in public.

    World War One ended without a total utter absolute defeat for Germany . . . . the sort of total utter absolute defeat which would have led Hindenburg and Luddendorf themselves to sign the articles of surrender ( instead of letting a cut-out civilian “government” sign them and take the blame for them).

    I remember watching a PBS documentary about Harry Truman once. It briefly discussed his service as a Captain of Artillery in WWI. It then read out to us a little bit of writing from a letter he sent home to his mother after the Armistice was declared.
    I don’t remember the exact quote, but in basic paraphrase, what he said was that Germany should not have been allowed to surrender prematurely. The war should have been kept going into Germany itself until the German Army and if necessary society and economy were so completely destroyed that Germany had nothing left to fight with . . . and would then admit to itself it own utter and total defeat. Allowing Germany to surrender prematurely would give Germany 20 years to rest and recover and then resume the war at a time of its own choosing. And of course Truman was proved right.

    So letting Ukraine and Russia fight until one side or the other is so utterly depleted and destroyed that it can no longer physically fight any more at all is the only solution which leads to a permanent peace . . . . a peace of the Utterly Victorious and the Utterly Vanquished.

    People who say they want a truce or a settlement should be honest enough to say that they don’t want to end the war. They want to postpone it for now and conserve pre-war conditions for re-starting the war at some later date.

  23. Carborundum

    Sorry, I don’t see two forces that are locked down unable to move due to pervasive ISR. There’s a tonne of tactical movement going on; what’s been somewhat rare to this point is larger scale maneuver while in contact with the enemy. As it happens, I think that’s likely to change as the Ukrainians bring their newly generated forces into the conflict – I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re going to start seeing them use maneuver more effectively to roll up chunks of Russian forces. If this proves out, I don’t think it will look like the huge arrows thundering across the desert we’re conditioned to by CNN but will instead consist of repeated movements and consolidations spanning tens of kilometres at a time – breaking Russian forces into bite-sized chunks.

    It’s nice that Fortem has trademarked things up the wazoo, but their tech doesn’t seem very germane to what I’m talking about. I know DARPA’s funded a bunch of stuff more in line with what I’m thinking of on the swarm side of things, but it’s a long way from ubiquitous fielding and fusing such huge volumes of data into something an S2 shop can work with strikes me as substantially more challenging. Similarly, I’m not sure how you’re interpreting “drone logistics” here, but for clarity it’s using drones (in this case mainly terrestrial) for logistics rather than as weapons platforms. Changes to the tooth to tail ratio, capabilities, survivability, etc. could end up driving some very significant shifts.

  24. A Duncan

    “Those who cannot kill will always be subject to those who can.”
    – Sgt. Brad ‘Iceman’ Colbert, ‘Generation Kill’

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